The series was created by producer Zarqa Nawaz. She is a Muslim of Pakistani origin who was born in Liverpool, England and raised in Toronto. She now lives in Regina, Saskatchewan. Nawaz describes herself as a "Muslim feminist."
Little Mosque on the Prairie first aired on CBC in 2007. It centres on the lives of a Muslim community in the small fictional town of Mercy, Saskatchewan. The community has rented space for its mosque in the parish hall of an Anglican church.
In the post-9/11 world, the portrayal of Muslims is a very sensitive undertaking. It is impossible to please everybody and criticism from Muslim and non-Muslim is inevitable. Some are bound to be offended.
Canadian writer and produce Ken Finkleman, who is best known for the CBC series The Newsman, expressed a dim view of Little Mosque. He said that there is “deep confusion and racism about the place of Islam in the Western world and it’s the thing that’s broiling up under everything in the world, and the show presents this world where everything is happy."
Conservative critics detest Little Mosque on the Prairie. They say that the series is too politically correct. They claim that it does not address some real issues in the Muslim community such as "honour killings" and the treatment of women.
One of the stars of the Little Mosque on the Prairie is Zaib Shaikh. He portrays Amaar Rashid, the beleaguered imam of the small town mosque. Amaar changed his life drastically when he left his comfortable career as a lawyer in Toronto to lead a small community of Muslim faithful in a sleepy prairie town. His liberal views come into conflict with the more conservative members of his congregation.
As reverent Muslims, Amaar and Rayyan were not permitted to touch each other before their wedding. The season ended with the newlyweds going off on their honeymoon and trying to decide whether to remain in Mercy or to accept Amaar’s job off offer in Montreal.
Zaib has worked and performed across Canada as a writer, director, actor and producer. Prior to taking on the role of Amaar on Little Mosque, he played the part of Vancouver city councillor Shakil Khan in Da Vinci's City Hall.
I wonder if Little Mosque is too Canadian for Americans to embrace or if our neighbours to the south are ready to accept such a series. My hope is that if any of my American readers have seen the show, they will contact me and let me know their point of view.
In December of 2010, U.S. news anchor Katie Couric remarked that maybe America needs a Muslim version of The Cosby Show. I'm not sure Little Mosque on the Prairie fits that description. The Cosby Show has been accused of being a sanitized depiction of the black experience in America. Little Mosque has been criticized for not being a realistic portrait of Muslims. Perhaps that is where the similarity ends.
Not surprisingly, Katie Couric received a great of flak from right- wingers for her remarks. The point, however, that Couric tried to make, is that American television is in need of a show that puts a human face on Muslims. For five years, Little Mosque on the Prairie, has done just that on Canadian television.
To watch a video of Zaib Shaikh's reaction to Couric's comment (during his appearance on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight), click on the link below.